We are but a few hours away from the official opening of the Canadian Football League’s free agency period. The talent pool is extremely deep this year, with a number of very talented football players preparing to ply the their trade for the highest bidder among all nine CFL clubs. It may not generate the buzz and excitement that the NHL’s Free Agent Frenzy does every July 1st, but Canadian football fans have been waiting on this day for quite some time.
Once the Grey Cup was handed this past November, it only took a matter of days for the seeds of this exciting time to be planted. The free agent lists were made available and immediately speculation from fans, players and execs alike started as to who will end up where. Who will stay put and who will test those free agency waters? There’s lots to consider and all nine GMs of this league had to start weighing the pros and cons of their own list, in addition to doing a little window shopping as well.
For Alouettes General Manager Jim Popp, there is a lot that he has to consider. He has some very talented players who could be walking out the door unless he can convince them to put pen to paper before noon tomorrow. Or perhaps he’s willing to bet on someone else who would be capable of filling the role that these players would otherwise occupy? Rest assured that as this column goes viral, the architect of this franchise is working the phones and making some very difficult decisions along the way.
Right now, we’re going to take an in-depth looks at the moves made thus far and what lies ahead as we ready ourselves for noon tomorrow. I’ll also throw out a few free agent names that would look really good wearing the red/blue/silver of Montreal.
Part 1: Who’s on the list:
This is the list of free agents that was put out by the Montreal Alouettes at the end of last season:
J-C Beaulieu, RB, National
Josh Bourke, OL, National
John Bowman, DE,International
Jerald Brown, DB, International
Dominique Ellis, DB, International
Samuel Giguere, WR, National
Mardy Gilyard, WR, International
Jonathan Hefney, DB, International
Corvey Irvin, DT, International
Chad Johnson, WR, International
Dan LeFevour, QB, International
Nik Lewis, WR, International
Stefan Logan, RB, International
Kristian Matte, OL, National
Jake Piotrowski, OL, National
Kyle Quinlan, QB, National
Fred Stamps, WR, International
James Tuck, DL, National
Winston Venable, LB, International
Carl Volny, RB, National
Mitchell White, DB, International
Some pretty impressive names, as well as some names that ring very true to the heart of Alouettes Nation. So let’s see who has decided to stay put so far:
Jean-Christophe Beaulieu: The extending of this young man’s tenure gives me hope that finally, Montreal will develop a serious ground game. A threat both rushing and receiving, J-C has playmaking potential for days on end. He was woefully underused last year but he’s got a steady pair of hands and great speed. His size also makes him ideal for goal line stands as well, as he can easily muscle his way for a one yard TD.
John Bowman: What can be said about Bow that hasn’t already been said? The all-time leader in sacks for the Alouettes, John has now entered that rarified air that players like Anthony Calvillo and Ben Cahoon have previously enjoyed; a Montreal institution who will likely end his career with the Birds of Prey. Bowman’s 2015 season had a bittersweet tone to it and I am certain that he didn’t want his last game ever to be a regular season loss to a lowly 3-15 team. So beware, opposing QBs…. Bow is back!
Nik Lewis: Another long-time veteran who wasn’t sure if his football fire still burned hot and bright, Lewis had to take some time to consider his career and where he stood after that last game for Montreal. After reflection, Nik decided that he wasn’t ready to call it a career just yet. Jim Popp knew just how deadly this guy can be so he wasted little time in re-upping this stout receiver. Wildly popular with Alouettes fans, Thick Nik will continue to bowl over the opposition and put a hurting on while wearing the Alouettes colours.
Stefan Logan: Last season saw a vast improvement in special teams for Montreal. Mostly because this team finally had a real special teams coach, but also because it had finally acquired a true returner! Logan came in and showed that his diminutive frame still had plenty of speed in it, putting up over 1000 yards in both kick and punt returns. He certainly doesn’t play like a guy in his mid-30s and he’ll be more motivated than before after being named the Alouettes’ Most Outstanding Player in 2015.
Kristian Matte: Canadian O-Linemen are more treasured than gold in the CFL. Matte is no exception, as he filled the spot previously occupied by Ryan Bomben and helped give the numerous quarterbacks Montreal employed plenty of room to work with. The Alouettes always have a strong all-Canadian O-Line and Kristian will be a part of that for a good while yet.
Jake Piotrowski: After spending time on the practice roster the past two seasons, this burly Canuck was finally able to slot into some games last season. He could see a lot more playing time if certain moves are not made tomorrow.
James Tuck: When he’s healthy, Tuck is a force to be reckoned with on special teams. The past two years have seen this former York Lion spend more time in the MASH unit than on the field so if he’s 100%, he will turn a lot of heads and open up a lot of lanes for Stefan Logan to fly right by.
Part 2: Who’s left to be signed:
So we know so far who’s staying in the nest. Now who’s gone?
Mardy Gilyard: Released by the Alouettes in December. In addition to his inability to stay healthy, Gilyard was arrested during training camp last year for marijuana possession. This release is hardly a surprise.
Chad Johnson: If you own an Xbox and are on Twitter, he’ll come to your house and play FIFA with you.
Dan LeFevour: Asked for and was granted his release by the Alouettes. Only taking three snaps in a game before being sidelined with a shoulder injury, LeFevour has joined the upstart Major League Football spring league starting in April.
Kyle Quinlan: After retiring in 2013 because he felt that he wouldn’t get playing time in Montreal, Quinlan decided to focus on coaching. He’s paid his dues and this past November, the University of York Lions hired Quinlan as their offensive co-ordinator.
Fred Stamps: Released by the Alouettes in January. Trading Kenny Stafford to the Eskimos for Stamps was a bold move that didn’t pay off so well for this team. Like nearly everyone, Stamps struggled with Montreal’s pedantic offensive attack and just wasn’t able to find his form in time. He still has that youthful zeal for the game, so I expect someone will find a roster spot for this veteran. And when he does finally call it a career, I can see him coaching up some young receivers and sharing his vast knowledge.
We now know who stays and who goes. But what about everyone else? Let’s dive in with who remains:
Josh Bourke: Easily one of the most prized players of this year’s free agent class, Josh is a warrior that leads by example. A young veteran with two Grey Cup rings on his fingers, he will be extremely tough to keep in Montreal. As I said before, Canadian O-Lineman are highly sought after and I just don’t see Jim Popp blowing his brains out to keep Bourke. I’d love to see him stay, but I think he chases the money and leaves.
Jerald Brown: I think it will be wait and see with Brown. He’s not a young man anymore and his opposition is young and hungry. JB more than held his own when his spot was challenged for by the younger members of Montreal’s secondary, but time always runs out. If he does re-sign in Montreal, it won’t be for very much or for very long.
Dominique Ellis: Last season was a breakout year for this explosive dynamo. He knew this was a contract year and put together a very solid campaign. Ellis also drew a lot of attention from the refs, as he was often targeted for his close-to-the-edge style of play. He knows that he is going to get paid (and possibly overpaid!) by someone starting tomorrow. I’d love to see Dominique stay put, but only time will tell.
Samuel Giguere: The homecoming of Giguere to the Alouettes didn’t exactly lead to the kind of production that he had when he was with Hamilton. While not a liability to Montreal, Sam simply couldn’t get anything going on offense. Much like Fred Stamps, the move to acquire him had potential but didn’t really pan out. I don’t see him staying with Montreal unless he takes another hometown discount and accepts being a back-up.
Jonathan Hefney: Had he not suffered that career-threatening injury versus the Ottawa RedBlacks, Hefney would have been extended a long time ago. He emerged from out of nowhere and was a superstar in Noel Thorpe’s defense. Hefney is scheduled for surgery later this month and there are so many questions marks about his future right now. If he can make a complete recovery, someone will surely give him a look. Possibly even Montreal again.
Corvey Irwin: It’s not easy to stand out on a defensive line that counts names like John Bowman, Alan-Michael Cash and Michael Klassen among its corps. But Irwin parlayed a great 2015 training camp into a starting job and his play was among the very best of this Alouettes D. Not too many fans know of him yet, even in Montreal. But you better believe the other GMs have taken notice and will try to wrest this former Georgia Bulldog away.
Winston Venable: Never mind what I think of Winston, have a look at what S.J. Green thinks of Venable’s worth! Typically, Jim Popp doesn’t overspend in free agency. But if he’s going to, he may as well make a sizeable offer to the man who registered over 100 tackles last season and will continue to terrorize opposing QBs no matter whose colours he’s wearing.
Montreal’s linebacking corps is looking crowded with Bear Woods, Kyries Hebert, Chip Cox and Henoc Muamba on the lineup card. But Venable is a once in a lifetime talent; hopefully S.J.’s campaigning worked on Montreal’s GM/Head Coach and this deal will get done before noon tomorrow.
Carl Volny: Another low-risk signing last year, Volny was decent in a supporting role on special teams. The Quebec-born Volny could very well take another hometown discount and continue to help out on special teams for Kavis Reed. Unfortunately, I don’t see him going much further past that in Montreal or on any other CFL team.
Mitchell White: Much like Dominique Ellis, White had himself a breakout year in terms of notoriety; he played hard and fast and quickly became a target for the zebras. There will be a lot of demand for him on the open market especially when you consider that he’s worked out for a number of NFL teams this off-season. Like so many others, White has NFL aspirations (his brother Miles plays for the New York Giants) and a big payday is probably all that will keep him north of the border.
Part 2: Who should join the Flock?
So before high noon strikes tomorrow and the feeding frenzy begins, Jim Popp is already ahead of the game, having made two free agent signings that may or may not affect where the rest of his potential shopping spree goes:
Dominic Picard: Released by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Picard helps fill a void left by the injury to Luc Brodeur-Jourdain last year. This signing is a sure indication that LBJ will not be ready to go by the time training camp opens in June. And that’s fine; there is still a lot of good OL talent just waiting to be developed. Having a young veteran like Picard helps lessen the load. Hopefully Dominic can bring his edge and fire while keeping the penalties to a minimum.
Duron Carter: Yes, THAT Duron Carter. Spending the entire 2015 season on the practice roster of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, Carter wasn’t able to stay on with Indy and found himself wanting to play full-time. He probably could have been patient and waited for another NFL offer, but that’s not his style.
So Duron decided to return to the CFL and according to him, Montreal was the most logical choice (He did consider an offer from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but decided to go with the devil he knew versus the one he didn’t). Alongside of S.J. Green, Nik Lewis and B.J. Cunningham, Carter will be expected to lead and bring the form that made him one of the CFL’s elite in 2014.
So who would I like to see Jim Popp add to this Montreal Alouettes line-up of the CFL’s list of free agents? I submit to you my #CFLFA wish list:
Kendial Lawrence: This signing will surely feel like a moot point with Stefan Logan re-upping with the Als, but I think Lawrence can be the next coming of Logan. He’s considerably younger than Logan while bringing all the same qualities. K-Law didn’t have the greatest season last year for the Eskimos, but he is still a championship-caliber player. Both he and Logan returning kicks would be a thing of beauty for Montreal.
David Hinds: Honestly, I’d be happy with any of the free agent members of the RedBlacks’ feared “D-Block” joining the Alouettes. Since keeping both Mitchell White and Dominque Ellis seem highly unlikely, Hinds would be an excellent substitution and would bring some serious playmaking to Montreal’s secondary, which is looking more and more like it’s getting an overhaul.
Andy Fantuz: With the retirement of Eric Deslauriers, Montreal will need a National receiver and as stated before, I’m not sold on Giguere. Alex Charette will be the future of this team, but it’ll be a lot to ask of his second season to be that kind of player. Fantuz can fill that void for Montreal. The belle of the ball when he was last a free agent, Fantuz is still very much a threat and would benefit from having a Kevin Glenn throwing to him. With several other highly sought free agents and Fantuz in his early 30s, he could well be a bargain for the Alouettes.
Jordan Verdone: Left unprotected by Montreal in the RedBlacks expansion draft, this would be a great chance for Jim Popp to return a former draft pick of his back into the fold. Verdone has played exceptionally well and was a key part of Mark Nelson’s defense (Another former Alouette staff member!) that made its way to the Grey Cup. Jordan got the seasoning he needed from Ottawa to be a full-time player and if the Alouettes can’t bring back Winston Venable, then Verdone would be a great depth move for a talent-laden linebacking corps.
The Montreal Alouettes were served a whole bunch of humble pie last year and no one is currently giving this team a lot of hope. But a few well-placed moves to go with a revamped coaching staff and there’s still a lot to be positive about for Alouettes Nation. I’m excited to see what moves will be made league-wide; this is shaping up to be quite the season and I have no doubt that this organization will make the right moves to ensure that a campaign like last year’s is a mere blip on the radar.
So what moves do you see the Alouettes making? Hit me up on the ol’ Tweeter machine and let’s discuss!
Just got one question for you CFL fans….. Is It Noon Yet?
GO ALS GO!!!